February, 2010

By Editor

. . . from the archives at FundAlarm

These profiles have not been updated. The information is only accurate as of the original date of publication.

FundAlarm – Highlights & Commentary – (Updated 1st of Each Month)

David Snowball’s
New-Fund Page for February, 2010

Dear friends,

You can’t imagine the sinking feeling I had at the beginning of January, when I read the headline “Stocks have best first week since 1987.” Great, start with parallels to a year that had one of the market’s greatest-ever traumas. I was somehow less disturbed to read three headlines in quick succession at the end of that same month: “January barometer forecasts a down 2010” and “Three crummy weeks for stocks” on the same day as “Growth hits 6-year high” and “Energy prices dip in January.” There’s such a sense of disconnect between Wall Street’s daily gyrations (and clueless excesses) and the real-world that there’s not much to do, other than settle back and work toward a sensible long-term plan.

Portfolio Peeking Season

As is our tradition, Roy and I take a few minutes each February to share our portfolios and the thinking that shapes them. Our hope is that our discussions might give you the courage to go look at the bigger picture of your own investments and might, too, give you some guidance on how to make sense out of what you see.

My portfolio lives in two chunks: retirement (which used to be 15 years away but now, who knows?) and not. My retirement portfolio is overseen by three entities: TIAA-CREF, T. Rowe Price, and Fidelity. Within each retirement portfolio, I have three allocation targets:

  • 80% equity / 20% income (which includes real estate)
  • 50% domestic / 50% international in the equity sleeve
  • 75% developed / 25% developing in the international sleeve

Inevitably things vary a bit from those weightings (TIAA-CREF is closer to 75% domestic / 25% international, for example), but I get pretty close. Over the past decade, that allocation and good managers have allowed me to pretty consistently outperform the Vanguard Total Stock Market (VTSMX) by 1 to 2% per year. In 2008, I lost about 36% — a percent better than Vanguard’s Total Stock Market but a percent worse than my benchmark composite. In 2009, I gained about 37% — eight percent better than Vanguard’s Total Stock Market, almost five percent better than either Vanguard’s Total World Stock Market ETF (VT) or my benchmark.

The same factors that drove the portfolio down in 2008 (a lot of international exposure and a lot of emerging markets exposure) drove it back up in 2009. Early in 2009 I rebalanced my account, which meant adding equity exposure and, in particular, emerging market equity exposure. None of my funds earned less than 20% and four of them – T. Rowe Price International Discovery (PRIDX), T. Rowe Price Emerging Market Stock (PRMSX), Fidelity Emerging Middle East and Africa (FEMEX) and Wasatch Microcap Value (WAMVX, in a Roth IRA) – returned more than 50%.

My non-retirement portfolio is considerably more conservative: it’s supposed to be about 25% US stocks, 25% foreign stocks, 25% bonds and 25% cash. It lost about 20% in 2008 and made about 30% in 2009.

Right now that’s accomplished with six funds:

  • TIAA-CREF Money Market, which generates income of $2.66 for every $1000 in my account. Sigh.
  • T. Rowe Price Spectrum Income (RPSIX): a fund of Price’s income-oriented funds. Technically a multi-sector bond fund, its relative performance is often controlled by what happens with the one stock fund that’s included in its portfolio. In general, it serves as a low-volatility way for me to keep ahead of inflation without losing much sleep. It’s pretty consistently churned out 5-6% returns and has lost money only during the 2008 meltdown. I could imagine being talked into a swap for Hussman Strategy Total Return (HSTRX), which didn’t lose money in 2008 and which also offers a low-volatility way to keep ahead of inflation. It has pretty consistently outperformed Price by 2-3% annually, but HSTRX’s fate lies in the performance of one guy – John Hussman, PhD – while Price is spread across eight or nine managers.
  • Artisan International Value (ARTKX): a very solid fund run by two Oakmark alumni. Made 33% in 2009, while lagging the vast majority of its peers. I’m fine with that, since leading in a frothy market is often a sign of an undisciplined portfolio. My only question is whether I’d be better in Artisan Global Value (ARTGX), which is smaller, more flexible and run by the same team.
  • Leuthold Global (GLBLX) is one manifestation of my uncertainty about the global economy and markets. It’s a go-anywhere (really: think “pallets of palladium in a London warehouse”) fund driven by a strict quantitative discipline. I bought it because of my admiration for the long-term success of Leuthold Core (LCORX), of which this is the “global” version. It made about 32% in 2009, well beyond its peers. I’d be substantially happier if it didn’t cost 1.82% but I’m willing to give Leuthold the chance to prove that they can add enough value to overcome the higher cost.
  • Finally, my portfolio by enlivened by the appearance of two new players: FPA Crescent (FPACX) and Matthews Asian Growth & Income (MACSX). I started 2009 with a pile of cash generated by my sale of Utopia Core (which was closed and liquidated, at a painful loss) and Baron Partners (which talked big about having the ability to take short positions – which I hoped would provide a hedge in turbulent markets – but then never got around to actually doing it). After much debate, I split the money between FPA and Matthews. FPA Crescent is a no-load fund from a mostly “loaded” family. Its manager, Steven Romick, has the flexibility to invest either in a company’s stock or its bonds, to short either, or to hold cash. This has long been a fixture of Roy’s portfolio and I finally succumbed to his peer pressure (or good common sense). The Matthews fund is about the coolest Asian fund I know of: strong absolute returns and the lowest risk of any fund in the region. Once it reopened to new investors, I began piling up my pennies. In 2009, it did what it always does in soaring markets: it made a lot of money in absolute terms (about 40%) but trailed almost all of its peers (97% of them). Which is just fine by me.

A more rational person might be drawn to MACSX’s sibling fund, Matthews Asia Dividend (MAPIX). Over its first three years, it has actually outperformed MACSX (by almost 2:1) with no greater risk. “Bob C.,” on the FundAlarm discussion board, mentioned that he’d been moving some of his clients’ assets into the fund. In retrospect, that looks like a great move but I’m reluctant to sell a fund that’s doing what I bought it to do, so I’ll probably watch and learn a bit longer.

What does the next year bring? Not much. Most of my investment success has been driven by two simple impulses: don’t take silly risks (which is different from “don’t take risks”) and save like mad. I continue to gravitate toward conservative managers who have a fair amount of portfolio flexibility and a great record for managing downside risks. And I continue saving as much as I can: about 13.5% of my annual income goes to retirement, my employer – Augustana College – contributes the equivalent of 10%, and about 10% of my take-home pay goes into the funds I’ve just mentioned. While college professors don’t make a huge amount of money, the fact that all of my investments are set on auto-pilot helps me keep with the program. Although I’ve profiled several incredibly intriguing funds over the past year, I’ll probably not add any new funds right now – I don’t have any really obvious holes and I’m not great at keeping control of large numbers of funds.

Roy writes:

Alas, I am quite a bit less systematic than David in designing my portfolio, not that there is anything wrong with David’s approach (in fact, it is quite good). Basically, I try to keep my portfolio roughly divided into broad capitalization “thirds” — one-third each large cap, mid-cap and small-cap funds — and within each third roughly divided into value, blend, and growth orientation. In other words, I try to fill each square of the venerable, nine-square Morningstar style box with a roughly equal percentage of my portfolio, with a further goal to have about 15% of my portfolio in foreign stocks, and an overweight in the health care, technology and fiancial services sectors (I’ll get back to you in about 10 years on that last one). To get an overview of my portfolio for this purpose, I use the Morningstar portfolio X-ray tool (which, by the way, is available free on the T. Rowe Price WSeb site).

Roy’s Mutual Fund Portfolio (as of December 31, 2009, in alphabetical order within each percentage category)

More than 15% by dollar value

  • Buffalo Small Cap (BUFSX)
  • iShares Russell 3000 Index ETF (IWV)

Less than 15% by dollar value

  • Allianz RCM Global Technology D (DGTNX)
  • Bridgeway Ultra-Small Company Market (BRSIX)
  • Cohen & Steers Realty Shares (CSRSX)
  • Fidelity Select Brokerage & Investment (FSLBX)
  • FPA Crescent (FPACX)
  • Vanguard 500 Index (VFINX)
  • Vanguard European Stock Index (VEURX)
  • Vanguard Health Care (VGHCX)
  • Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI)
  • Wasatch Global Technology (WAGTX)
  • Weitz Partners Value (WPVLX)

In early 2010, shortly after the snapshot above, I sold Bridgeway Ultra-Small Company Market, due to poor performance, and invested the proceeds in Wasatch Mid Cap Value (WAMVX). I also have arranged to invest this year’s retirement plan contributions in WAMVX.

To simplify things a bit, I probably should sell my shares of Vanguard 500 Index (VFINX) and invest the proceeds in iShares Russell 3000 Index ETF. But I hold the VFINX in a taxable acccount, and my desire not to pay capital gains tax outweighs my need to tidy up. Likewise, to reduce the number of my holdings, I should sell my shares of Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI) and invest the proceeds in iShares Russell 3000 Index ETF (IWV), which plays a very similar role in my portfolio (the shares of VTI are held in a retirement account so, in this case, such a sale would have no tax consequences). Here, I just don’t want to pay the transaction fees which, while minor, ultimately strike me as unnecessary.

[Back to David] Forward Long/Short Credit Analysis: a clarification and correction

In January, I profiled

Forward Long/Short Credit Analysis (FLSRX), a unique fund which takes long and short positions in the bond market. The fund’s appeal is due to (a) its prospects for extracting value in an area that most other mutual funds miss and (b) its pedigree as a hedge fund. Forward’s president was particularly proud of this latter point, and took some pains to dismiss the efforts of competitors who could come up with nothing more than hedge fund wannabes:

Unlike the “hedge fund light” mutual funds, this one is designed just like a hedge fund, but with daily pricing, daily liquidity, and mutual fund-like transparency.

Forward’s commitment to the fund’s hedge roots was so strong that it was initially available only to qualified investors: folks with a net worth over $1.5 million or at least $750,000 invested in the fund.

Since Forward says that FSLRX models a Cedar Ridge hedge fund, but doesn’t specify which hedge fund they mean, I guessed that it was Cedar Ridge Master Fund and highlighted Cedar Ridge’s performance as an illustration of FSRLX’s potential.

I was wrong on two counts. First, I had the wrong hedge fund. “Evan,” one of our readers, wrote to inform me that the correct fund was Cedar Ridge Investors Fund I, LP. Second, the Investors’ fund record raises serious questions about FSLRX. The Cedar Ridge Master Fund lost 6% in 2008, a respectable performance. Cedar Ridge Investors, however, lost 31% — which is far less reassuring. Worse, there was a cosmic gap between the 2009 performance of Cedar Ridge Investors (up 98%) and its doppelganger, FSLRX (up 47%). When I asked about the gap in performance, the folks at Forward passed along this explanation:

The Forward Long/Short Credit Analysis Fund is based on the Cedar Ridge Investors I. The performance difference in 2009 between the two is easily explained. Compared to the Cedar Ridge fund, FLSRX fund is more diversified and uses less leverage to be able to provide daily liquidity and operate as a fund for retail investors.

Somehow that 2:1 return difference is making the Forward fund look pretty durned “hedge fund light” about now. (Many thanks to Evan for pointing me, finally, in the right direction.)

Akre Focus: Maybe it is worth all the fuss and bother

In the January issue, I took exception to the uncritical celebration by financial journalists of the new Akre Focus (AKREX) fund. Manager Chuck Akre intends to manage AKREX using the same strategy he employed with the successful FBR Focus (FBRVX) fund, and Akre is the only only manager FBRVX has ever known. AKREX – for all intents and purposes – is FBRVX: same manager, same expenses, same investment requirement, same strategy. I was, however, still suspicious: FBRVX has a very streaky record, Mr. Akre’s entire analyst team resigned in order to stay with the FBR Fund and, in doing so, they were reported as making comments that suggested that Mr. Akre might have been something less than the be-all and end-all of the fund. I e-mailed Akre Capital Management in December, asking for a chance to talk but never heard back.

Victoria Odinotska, president of a public relations firm that represents Akre Focus, read the story and wrote to offer a chance to chat with Mr. Akre about his fund and his decision to start Akre Focus. I accepted her offer and gave our Discussion Board members a chance to suggest questions for Mr. Akre. I got a bunch, and spent an hour in January chatting with him.

Our conversation centered on three questions.

Question One: Why did you leave? Answer: Because, according to Mr. Akre, FBR decided to squeeze, if not kill, the goose that laid its golden eggs. As Mr. Akre, explained, FBR is deeply dependent on the revenue that he generated for them. He described his fund as contributing “80% of FBR’s assets and 100% of net income.” While I cannot confirm his exact numbers, there’s strong evidence that Focus is, indeed, the lynchpin of FBR’s economic model. At year’s end, FBR funds held $1.2 billion in assets. A somewhat shrunken Focus fund accounted for $750 million, which works out to about 63% of assets. By Mr. Akre’s calculation, he managed $1 billion for FBR, which represents about 80%. More importantly, most of FBR’s funds are run at a substantial loss, based on official expense ratios:

Expense ratio before waivers

Expense ratio after waivers

Loss on the fund

FBR Pegasus Small Cap Growth




FBR Pegasus Mid-Cap




FBR Pegasus Small Cap




FBR Technology




FBR Pegasus




FBR Focus



FBR Large Cap Financial



FBR Small Cap Financial



FBR Gas Utilities Index



Source: FBR Annual Report, “Financial Highlights, Year Ending 10/31/09”

Based on these numbers, virtually all of FBR’s net income was generated by two guys (Mr. Akre, whose Focus fund generated $10.8 million, and David Ellison whose two Financial funds chipped in another $3.5 million), as well as one modestly over-priced index fund (which grossed $1.5 million)

FBR underwent a “change of control” in early 2009 and, as Mr. Akre describes it, they decided they needed to squeeze the goose that was laying their golden eggs. After a series of meetings, FBR announced their new terms to Akre, which he says consisted of the following:

  • He needed to take a 20% cut in compensation (from about 55 basis points on his fund to 45 basis points), a potential cash savings to management that he did not believe would be passed on to fund shareholders.
  • He would need to take on additional marketing responsibilities, presumably to plump the goose.
  • And he had eight days to make up his mind.

Mr. Akre said “no” and, after consulting with his team of three analysts who agreed to join him, decided to launch Akre Focus. The fund was approved by the SEC in short order and, while his analysts worked on research back at the home office, Mr. Akre took a road trip. Something like three days into that trip, he got a call. It was his senior analyst who announced that all three analysts had resigned from his new fund. The next day, FBR announced the hiring of the three analysts to run FBR Focus.

FBR has been taking a reasonably assertive tack in introducing their new portfolio managers. They don’t quite claim that they’ve been running the fund all this time, but they come pretty close. FBR Focus’s Annual Report, January 2010, says this: “Finally, we are pleased to be writing this letter to you in our expanded role as the Fund’s co-Portfolio Managers. We assumed this position on August 22, 2009, after working a cumulative 23 years as the analysts responsible for day to day research and management of the Fund’s investments (emphasis added).” Mr. Akre takes exception to these claims. He says that his analysts were just that — analysts — and not shadow managers, or co-managers, or anything similar. Mr. Akre notes, “My analysts haven’t run the fund. They have no day-to-day investment management experience. They were assigned to research companies and write very focused reports on them. As a professional development opportunity, they did have a chance to offer a recommendation on individual names. But the decision was always mine.”

Mr. Akre’s recollection is certainly consistent with the text of FBR’s annual and semi-annual reports, which make no mention of a role for the analysts, and don’t even hint at any sort of team or collegial decision-making.

Question Two: How serious is the loss of your entire staff ? Answer: not very. After a national search, he hired two analysts who he feels are more experienced than the folks they replaced:

  • Tom Saberhagen: Since 2002, a Senior Analyst with the Aegis Value Fund (AVALX), which I’ve profiled as a “star in the shadows”.
  • John Neff, who has been in the financial services industry for 15 years. He was a sell-side equity analyst for William Blair & Company and previously was in the First Scholar program at what was then First Chicago Corporation (now JP Morgan).

Question Three: What can investors expect from the new fund? Mr. Akre has some issues with how the size of FBR Focus was managed at the corporate level. It’s reasonable to assume that he will devote significant attention to properly managing the size of his own fund.

In general, Mr. Akre is very concerned about the state of the market and determined to invest cautiously, “gingerly” in his terms. He plans to invest using precisely the discipline that he’s always followed, and seems exceptionally motivated to make a success of the fund bearing his name. In recognition of that, I’ve profiled Akre Focus this month as a “star in the shadows.”

Thanks again to Mr. Akre for taking the time to talk with me, and for giving us some rare behind-the-scenes views of fund management. Of course, if there are credible viewpoints that differ from Mr. Akre’s, we’d like to hear them, and we’ll carefully consider printing them as well.

Noted briefly:

RiverNorth Core Opportunity(RNCOX), was recognized by Morningstar as the top-performing moderate allocation/hybrid fund over the past three years. My profile of RNCOX was also the subject of vigorous discussion on the FundAlarm Discussion Board, where some folks were concerned that the closed-end market was not currently ripe for investment. (Source: Marketwire.com, 1/12/10)

Manning & Napier, Matthews Asia and Van Eck were recognized by Strategic Insight (a research firm) as the fastest-growing active fund managers in 2009. I know little about Van Eck, but have profiled several funds from the other two firms and they do deserve a lot more attention than they’ve received. (Source: MutualFundWire.com, 1/14/10)

T. Rowe Pricewas the only pure no-load manager to make Lipper/Barron’s list of “best fund families, 2009.” The top three families overall were Putnam (#1 – who would have guessed?), Price and Aberdeen Asset Management. Top in U.S. equity was Morgan Stanley, Price topped the world equity category, and Franklin Templeton led in mixed stock/bond funds. Fidelity ranked 26/61 while Vanguard finished 40th. (Source: “The New Champs,” Barron’s, 2/01/10).

Raising the prospect that Forward Long/Short Credit Analysis (FSLRX, discussed above and profiled last month) might be onto something, Michael Singer, head of alternative investments for Third Avenue Management, claims that the best opportunities in 2010 will come distressed debt (a specialty for the new Third Avenue Focused Credit (TFCVX) fund), long-short credit (à la Forward) and emerging markets. Regarding long-short credit, he says, “Last year, making money in long-short credit was like shooting fish in a barrel. This year talented traders can make money on both the long and short side, but you better be in the right credits.” (Source: “Tricky Sailing for Hedge Funds,” Barron’s, 2/01/10).

In closing . . .

I’ve written often about the lively and informative debates that occur on FundAlarm’s discussion board. For folks wondering whether supporting FundAlarm is worth their time, you might consider some of the gems scattered up and down the Board as I write:

  • MJG” linked to the latest revision of well-regarded Callan Periodic Table of Investment Returns, which provides – in a single, quilt-like visual – 20 years’ worth of investment returns for eight different asset classes. “Bob C” had reservations about the chart’s utility since it excludes many au currant asset classes, such as commodities. After just a bit of search, Ron (a distinct from rono) tracked down a link to the Modern Markets Scorecard which provides a decades’ worth of data on classes as standard as the S&P500 and as edgy as managed futures. You can find the Scorecard here: Link to Scorecard (once you get to this page, on the Rydex Web site, click on the appropriate PDF link).
  • After a January 28 market drop, “Fundmentals” offered up a nice piece of reporting and interpretation on the performance of variously “hedged” mutual funds.

Posted by Fundmentals
on January 28, 2010 at 20:02:18:

The long/short category in M* includes many different strategies which may not be correlated with each other but days like this expose the different strategies and how they behave.

I have divided the funds into several behavioral categories

Long huggers: These are the category equivalent of closet indexers in active long-only funds. Their short/hedging positions don’t prevent them from being close to the market movements (say upto -1% on a day like this). These should be avoided if they do this consistently. Examples include:

Astor Long/Short ETF I ASTIX -0.71% (try shorting for a change bud)
Old Mutual Analytic Z ANDEX -1.01% (need more analytics it seems)
Schwab Hedged Equity Select SWHEX -0.85% (hedged? try again)
Sound Mind Investing Managed Volatility SMIVX -0.90% (no one with sound mind will think this is managing volatility)
The Collar COLLX -0.67% (cute name but is the manager a dog?)
Threadneedle Global Extended Alpha R4 REYRX -0.94% (What alpha? Missing the needle)
Virtus AlphaSector Allocation I VAAIX -0.71% (Pick whether you want to be an alpha fund or a sector fund)
Wasatch-1st Source Long/Short FMLSX -0.95% (Perhaps time to try the 2nd Source for ideas?)
Wegener Adaptive Growth WAGFX -1.12% (Sorry bud, you ain’t adapting nor growing)

Long-biased: These hedge/short sufficiently to reduce downside but still manage to lose with some correlation to the market (say around -0.5% on a day like this. Examples include

AQR Managed Strategy Futures N AQMNX -0.51% (future ain’t looking bright with this)
Beta Hedged Strategies BETAX -0.41% (need more cowbells.. er.. hedging)
Glenmede Long/Short GTAPX -0.37% (a bit more short perhaps?)
Highland Long/Short Equity Z HEOZX -0.56% (High on long?)
ICON Long/Short Z IOLZX -0.58% (Not too long if you please?)
Janus Long/Short T JLSTX -0.51% (More like long T-shirt, try a short size)
Nakoma Absolute Return NARFX -0.55% (absolute loss?)

Market neutral: These funds are hedged/short sufficiently to provide a return largely unrelated to the market movement (say between -0.3% to 0.3% on a day like this). Most of them fall here and are what you need in this category

Alpha Hedged Strategies ALPHX -0.30%
Alternative Strategies I AASFX -0.16%
American Century Lg-Shrt Mkt Netrl Inv ALHIX +0.20
Arbitrage R ARBFX -0.08%
DWS Disciplined Market Neutral S DDMSX +0.22
First American Tactical Market Oppt Y FGTYX -0.1%
GMO Alpha Only III GGHEX 0.00%
Goldman Sachs Absolute Return Tracker IR GSRTX -0.11%
ING Alternative Beta W IABWX -0.18%
Merger MERFX +0.06%
MFS Diversified Target Return I DVRIX -0.22%
Robeco Long/Short Eq Inv BPLEX +0.12%
TFS Market Neutral TFSMX -0.33%
Turner Spectrum Inv TSPCX +0.18%
Vantagepoint Diversifying Strategies VPDAX -0.20%

Short biased: These are hedged/short sufficiently that they are mostly inverse correlated with the market but do have some upside in up markets (say around +0.5% on a day like this)

None I can find

Short huggers: This is the opposite of the long huggers who are so hedged/short that they are more correlated with inverse funds than being short biased and are likely to do poorly in up markets. Avoid if they do this consistently. Examples

Hussman Strategic Growth HSGFX +0.95% (The strategy is to grow only when everyone is shrinking?)
In addition to well-earned words of thanks, many of the 20 replies offered up other hedged and risk-diversifying funds worthy of consideration and suggestions for ways to interpret the inconsistent ability of managers to live up to the “market neutral” moniker.

Of the 20 funds with “absolute” in their names, precisely half have managed to break even so far in 2010. Only two “absolute return” funds actually managed to achieve their goal by staying above zero in both 2008 and 2009 — Eaton Vance Global Macro Absolute Return (EAGMX) and RiverSource Absolute Return Currency & Income (RARAX). Both also made money in January.

  • In common with many nervous investors, “Gandalf” was curious about how much investable cash other folks were holding in the face of the market’s (so far) minor correction. You might be interested to read why several respondents were at 75% cash – and what they intended to do next.

The joys of the board are varied, but fleeting – after a week to 10 days, each post passes into The Great Internet Beyond so that we can make room for the next generation. As we pass the 280,000 post mark, the members of the discussion community have offered up a lot of good sense and sharp observations. Roy and I invite you to join in the discussion, and to help provide the support that makes it all possible.

Please do let us know, via the board or e-mail, what you like, what makes you crazy and how we can make it better. We love reading this stuff!

With respect,


FundAlarm © 2010